(UNESCO / Japan Young Researchers' fellowships programme)

Potential Environmental Impacts of Tourism Activities in Protected Areas: A View from Nicaragua

Summary of research carried out: 
Potential Environmental Impacts of Tourism Activities in Protected Areas: A View from Nicaragua

The General Directorate for Environmental Quality in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) considers it necessary to do an environmental impact assessment of activities within given environmentally sensitive areas to determine consequent direct or indirect effects of these activities on the ecological, economical, social and cultural aspects in which the projects are developed.

The State of Environment Nicaraguan Report from 2001 indicates that the main threats of tourism on biodiversity are the lack of territorial ordinance policies, lack of followup and control measurements from tourism projects, and inefficient management of residual waters.

Because of all the potential negative impacts of tourism on the environment, it is proposed that eco-tourism be the exclusive form of tourism operation to be developed in a protected area. Modalities such as Adventure Tourism, Educational – Scientific Tourism, or Rural Tourism associated with buffer zones, are other options for the development of highlyvalued natural areas.

Eco-tourism should not be viewed as a panacea, but as an alternative for land use and management of protected areas, particularly in a country like Nicaragua. The appropriate use of natural resources that are in near pristine quality must take into account the funds needed to develop, maintain, and administer tourism services that minimize negative environmental impacts.

An analysis of eco-tourism activities and its impacts should not be concentrated only on the protected areas, but an action plan should also involve local communities in close proximity to the protected areas. In this way, tourism services such as housing, lodging, restaurants, and other forms of recreation, could be developed outside the protected areas with a master plan in mind. In this way the protected areas could be used exclusively for eco-tourism activities. This scheme would bring economic benefits and incentives to the local communities, which in many cases are in economically depressed zones of the country. Unfortunately, these zones are particularly rich in natural resources and populated with local inhabitants that are very hospitable.

There is a lack of compatibility between protected area management categories applied in Nicaragua and the land use they undergo. The consequences of this incompatibility bring incoherence in applying environmental law and fundamentals for best land management practices. Therefore, it is necessary to revise the system of protected areas categories functioning in Nicaragua. For instance, in the case of the “Strict Nature Reserve/Wilderness Area (I)” category, it is not clear which of the objectives of management apply to the statement “to preserve habitats, ecosystem and species in as undisturbed a state as possible”. This would definitely not allow for ecotourism activities. On the other hand, the Managed Resource Protected Area is managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems. It is primarily for the benefit of local communities. This category does not exist in the Nicaraguan Regulation but may have some applicability. This would allow for the kind of land uses included in various ecotourism activities. Consequently, it would permit an appropriate management of the area according to the established best management practices, as well as give economic benefits to local populations, in particular, and to Nicaraguan society in general.


6 November 2002